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November 20th 2014, 03:13 PM
Bard Male United States
Please Cindy, say the whole name each time. 
229: Once a Hero (Demo) Author: James Troughton (SabreTrout) Release Date: December 31, 2005
"Man, I've never even touched a sword before, let alone used one."

REPUTATION NOTE: This DMOD is one of the select group with a score of 9.0 or better (9.3) on The Dink Network.

There are certain things we just take for granted in a DMOD - at least, in a DMOD that doesn't radically depart from the kind of game Dink Smallwood was and turn into an arcade game or something. There's the usual cast of monsters. There's magic. If we're playing as Dink, he knows how to swing a sword in that way he does - it looks like he's attempting to bludgeon you with the hilt, true, but it seems effective. Even in DMODs where Dink never gets a magic spell or never even fights a monster, these assumptions are not challenged. "Once a Hero" is a different kind of DMOD.

It's like he's never even seen a weird, mooing tail-beast before.

As a duck in the void conveys during the intro, "Once a Hero" is set in a far future where, despite the apparent lack of an industrial revolution, magic and monsters have long since disappeared and are all but forgotten. The only remaining signs of them are tales in old books that are assumed by most people to be pure fantasy. There are no wizards, no dragons and no boncas as far as anybody knows, although there ARE still giant pillbugs making a nuisance of themselves.

There are also deer. I like them. They fit right in.

So we're introduced to another Dink Smallwood, living with his mom in a small, quiet village. This has some similarities with the beginning of "Friends Beyond 3," which also featured a different Dink in the future. Actually, come to think of it, it isn't that different from the setup of the original game, with the exception that our Dink probably knew that monsters existed. There never was much of an explanation as to why Dink, who had no experience with fighting or adventuring, was suddenly great at these things as soon as he tried them. THIS Dink, when he gets his hands on a sword, doesn't really know how to use it. As a result, the attack bonus from the sword is only half of the usual bonus. I probably would have taken this a step farther and added some kind of chance for attacks to miss.

I like the house interiors in this DMOD. There seems to be a bit more effort put into them than usual.

Dink has a friend named Jacob who is obsessed with the legends of magic and mythical creatures. Dink doesn't share his friend's interest. Maybe he thinks it would be cool to be able to use magic, but this Dink strongly feels that reading is "for dweebs." He seems so bored by Jacob's enthusiasm that you almost wonder why they're such close friends, but then, Jacob is the only other boy Dink's age in his village. I remember being a kid. You hung out with other kids that you didn't necessarily share interests with because hanging out is just what kids do. I can relate.

A large portion of the demo is spent just doing ordinary stuff around Dink's village. The dialogue in this segment is remarkably down-to-earth and free of melodrama. It was almost to the point of being boring, but I appreciated the realistic feel. It grounds the story and builds character. I'd be excited to see where the story leads from such a muted starting point if this weren't just a demo. Still, we do get a creepy scene of the village being suddenly deserted when Jacob accidentally casts an unknown spell from an ancient book.

The moral is that reading really IS for dweebs.

"Once a Hero" was intended to become an epic, made with collaboration between SabreTrout and Striker (who, according to the readme, didn't have much to do with the production of this demo). Evidence of the project's high ambition can be found in the demo. If you press the "S" key, there's a status dialog with Dink's current class and languages known. Dink's class starts as "youth," but it changes to "adventurer" once an NPC explains to Dink what one is ("You know the sort. They go around killing things for fame and glory. Helping damzels in distress, slaying almighty foes. That kind of thing."). There were plans for other classes like mage and thief, and for skills like Swordmaster, which would make Dink better at using swords. There are more design ideas and some unused scripts in the story folder. Also included with the DMOD is a screenshot that seems to prove CC3 was in development at some point.

After Dink leaves his village, he'll soon find his way to a nearby town, where a farmer will pay him to slay some giant spiders. Once you beat the spiders and return to the farmer to collect your reward, the demo is over.

They're nasty little buggers.

"Once a Hero" has a story concept with a lot of potential and a direct effect on gameplay. Instead of throwing out all the usual fantasy trappings right away, they're introduced one at a time as the hero discovers them. I'm not sure how well the class system idea would have worked out, but I suspect this might have been a favorite of mine. Even as a demo, it at least gets you thinking about some things that are usually taken for granted.


Obviously, that's it for 2005. It seems that I was more on-target than I knew when I shrugged and introduced it as "a year that happened," because it seems to be a big blind spot in the Dink community. For whatever reason, 2004 seems to be regarded as the end of the "classic era" that contains many DMODs people have played because of the high esteem in which they're held or simply because they're old. The "modern era" that more people remember directly doesn't seem to start until at least 2007.

Despite the lack of attention paid to it, I think 2005 was a good year for DMODs. I was surprised and impressed. Previous years forced me to muddle through too many mods that I just didn't enjoy at all. In 2005, there were only a few DMODs that I really disliked. Apart from those few (heck, I'll name them: Goblin Castle, Apex, Dink Bigwood and Land of Transforming Ducks), I found something to genuinely enjoy in each of the mods from 2005, even those that were sloppy or generic. There were a lot of creative, fresh-feeling ideas this year, and a lot of fun Dink-style adventure.

(OK, I admit that there's one more mod I didn't really find anything special in: "Dink vs. Milder," truly a replacement-level DMOD if ever I've encountered one.)

Even the mods that I really disliked weren't as hard to make it through as some from previous years. I only gave out two copies of the Dink Forever Memorial Award of Badness - compare that to NINE from 2003, for example. Speaking of the DFMAOB, I've given it out 29 times. That's nearly 13 percent of the DMODs so far. Also, 1998 mods got a free pass for coming out so early. If they didn't, all four of my 1998 mods would get one for sure, bringing the total to 33, or over 14 percent. This might seem harsh, but I want to assure you that I have reserved careful judgment in the use of this deadliest of snark bombs. Many are the times I have said, "Wow, that DMOD sucked and I hated it," but had to admit to myself that it was not DFMAOB material. Yes, there really are that many duds out there. Here's hoping the percentage will end up creeping down rather than up.

Here are my favorite DMODs from 2005:

The Bronze Pig (3rd place): Terrania, by Carrie Burton. I know it's weird to pick one that I had trouble finishing, but I've always been a little charmed by Carrie's silly mods with their interesting settings, and this one is easily my favorite so far. The atmosphere is very weird in a pleasant way, the dialogue is funny - this one stood out for me.

The Silver Duck (2nd place): Once a Hero, by SabreTrout. It's fun while it lasts, but I'm grading this one mainly on potential. It really gets my mind racing with the possibilities of what a full version would have been like.

The Golden Pillbug (Best place): The Scourger, by Metatarasal. A big long DMOD with a good number of distinct areas that each have their own theme. The pacing was good, and I never got stuck. Comparable to "Prophecy of the Ancients" in terms of gameplay. Pretty impressive work for somebody who got their start the same year. Some of my favorite parts were added in a 2010 update, but the author deserves the credit for putting in the rare effort to go back and add to a previous work.

See you in 2006, when things slowed down a bit... at least in terms of DMOD releases.